by Dan Swanson
Ted Knight’s self-confidence broke when he realized that the Aryan Flame had indeed caused this accident. While they had been engaged in the rescue effort, Starman and the other All-Stars had been able to concentrate on saving lives and the tasks that still needed to be done, rather than the horrible things they were looking at.
Probably twenty people had lost their lives because of this wreck. Some of these people could probably have been saved if the rescuers had reached them earlier. Over a hundred people were sent to the hospital, and some of them would probably die as well. Many of the survivors would be coping with the wounds they received tonight for the rest of their lives. Although all of the All-Stars had witnessed death before, none had ever seen this many dead under such terrible conditions. This event would leave memories that would cause nightmares for years to come — if they lived through the upcoming battle.
Ted had been able to avoid thinking about the cause of the accident earlier, but when he was sure that the Aryan Flame had caused this accident, Ted couldn’t hide from his self-guilt any longer. Ted’s invention had been used to give the Aryan Flame his powers, and in Ted’s mind, this made him responsible for all the horrors around him. One of the reasons Ted had avoided being Starman much recently was guilt linked to the Aryan Flame. Ted felt that his actions as Starman had led directly to the Flame’s death. Now, to realize that a villain he had created and had failed to neutralize had caused the deaths of so many, and agony for so many more, crashed in on him.
It didn’t matter that no rational objective observer would blame Ted Knight for any of this. The Aryan Flame had used Ted’s invention without permission, and his death had not been caused by the method Starman used to capture him, but radiation exposure that he had inflicted on himself while using Ted’s invention. He would have died anyway, and if Starman and his fellow All-Stars hadn’t stopped him then, he probably would have killed a lot of people before he died. And Ted certainly wasn’t responsible that the Aryan Flame had come back to life. But this was Ted’s life, and he was an emotional participant, not a rational observer.
Most of the rescue workers had left. The military left a few M.P.s in anti-radiation suits to keep people away from the radioactivity. And the railroad had already started switching trains around the area. So even if the upcoming battle with the Aryan Flame was dangerous, the general public would be safe.
As they rolled behind some pieces of wreckage, the All-Stars noticed that the blue glow around the boxcars was fading. Quickly, it was gone. Starman was surprised to realize that it was almost dawn. His gravity rod’s source of power — stellar energy — would be cut off soon. He had to get the other prototype gravity rod back from under the pile of wreckage where he had hidden it.
Weeks before, Ted Knight had been experimenting with increased power storage in the prototype testing gravity rod. Theoretically, it had enough stored power for about four hours of steady use in full daylight. Ted headed toward the pile of rubble he had used to conceal the prototype. Getting the other gravity rod, and being able to assist in the upcoming battle, suddenly had become the most important thing in Ted’s mind. With his damaged self-confidence, he felt he needed to prove himself and right now.
Then one of the no-longer glowing boxcars exploded. When the smoke cleared and the debris finished falling, four blue-glowing human figures were revealed. As they watched, the blue glow around the figures faded, seemingly drawn inside them. It was as if they were absorbing all the radiation and radioactivity in the area.
One of the figures was the Aryan Flame. Nobody recognized the other three. They all seemed to be dressed in cheap clothes and lab coats, which were well-tattered by now. The figures started moving toward them, moving almost as if they were wooden puppets on strings — awkwardly and in jerks and stops. What was perhaps more eerie was that none of the four made any noise whatsoever. Except for shuffling their feet, they moved in complete silence. Amazing-Man noticed that there were no expressions on their faces. Throughout the entire battle that followed, not one of them ever uttered a word, or even made a grunt of pain. And their expressions never changed.
As they came closer, two of them raised their arms and pointed at the heroes. A blue beam came from the Aryan Flame’s hand, and lightning flashed from the hand of the other villain. Fortunately, Starman had used his gravity rod to throw up a shield between them just before they started blasting, and both beams splashed harmlessly against that shield. The heroes quickly scattered. Each of the enemy figures moved toward one of the heroes. Just before being engaged by the Aryan Flame, Mister Terrific noticed that the enemy figures were now moving with less awkwardness, almost as if they were coming back to life.
The War Department had code names for all of these supposedly deceased German mystery-men, even though the heroes wouldn’t learn their names until a few days later. Of course, the heroes did figure out the powers of each of their foes during the ensuing battle.
Although he didn’t yet realize it, Starman found himself the target of the one called Electraking. Seeing Starman moving as the astral avenger tried to retrieve his other gravity rod, Electraking shot a lightning blast at him. Starman still had a shield up, and the blast was deflected away. Starman responded with a force blast at Electraking. Somehow, the undead villain was able to cause debris to rise off the ground and intercept Starman’s force-blasts. So exchanging energy blasts wasn’t accomplishing anything.
Suddenly, Electraking changed tactics. He pointed both of his arms at the locomotive, which had somehow remained undamaged in the wreck. He then raised his arms, and the locomotive rose majestically into the air. Ted Knight was almost awestruck; Superman might have lifted the engine more easily, but very few other beings in the world could have. He used the gravity rod to determine that Electraking was using magnetism. This made sense; electricity and magnetism were just two manifestations of the same force.
Suddenly, Starman realized that the locomotive was accelerating toward him. He couldn’t afford to be distracted trying to analyze his opponent’s powers. He was pretty sure his gravity rod wouldn’t be able to stop something with the mass and power of a locomotive moving faster than a speeding bullet, so he flew out of the way as quickly as possible.
As Starman flew to the side, Electraking tried to change the path of the engine, but it had too much inertia, so he just let it go. The engine fell to the ground with a tremendous noise and rolled over half a dozen times. The water tank burst, and hot water sprayed all over. The wreckage already in its way was further demolished. Fortunately, none of the other heroes, villains, or M.P.s had been anywhere near the flight path of that engine.
Electraking turned his attention back to Starman, then used his ability to control electricity to shut down the gravity rod.
Starman had been flying low and fast when hit the ground hard, and he rolled, smashing into piles of rubble. His costume protected him somewhat, but he rolled over a lot of sharp fragment of wreckage, and he began bleeding from numerous cuts all over his body. He smashed into the broken piece of boxcar he had placed over his second gravity rod. Ted heard and felt bones cracking in his rib cage. He was in agony, but he was able to use his momentum to roll behind this piece of wreckage. It was fortunate for him that he did.
Electraking blasted that rubble with a lightning bolt. Starman felt the current, but the metal in the wreckage saved him by grounding the lightning bolt. Electraking couldn’t see Starman behind the wreckage, so he used his magnetic powers to lift it out of the way, no doubt planning to drop it on Starman as soon as he saw him.
Ted knew he had only one chance, and if he didn’t move fast enough, he might die. His terror overcame his self-doubt, and he snatched up the second gravity rod and blasted Electraking in one smooth motion. Not knowing the second gravity rod existed, Electraking had not turned it off. He was unprepared for Starman’s sudden blast, which knocked him tumbling backward. Starman took the opportunity to pick up several tons of debris, doing his best to avoid iron or steel, and throw it Electraking.
The undead villain’s instant reaction of using magnetism stopped a lot of the mass, but the aluminum, wood, and rock in the mass slipped through. Electraking was forced to blast the incoming mess away with lightning. He wasn’t completely successful, and was somewhat battered, but he was almost immediately ready to continue the fight.
Starman realized that he was on the losing end of this battle. He figured it was time to retreat and come up with a new plan. At that moment, Ted saw Amazing-Man knocked to the ground by a man swinging a section of train track. Then the man raised the track section over his head and plunged it at Will Everett’s heart, exactly as a man would plunge a wooden stake into the heart of a vampire. Ted tried desperately to use the gravity rod to snatch Will out from under the deadly steel stake. Nobody else was going to die today, if he could prevent it. But he wasn’t sure if he could move Amazing-Man away in time.